“Ma'm, truth be told, I guess you make the best coffee I've ever run across.”
The smell of Mariska's morning coffee had drifted up to Dover, who had been standing guard over their camp during the night. The smell of her coffee was enough to send him down to the campfire in short order. Accepting a refill from Mariska, he said, “I make a pretty good cup of coffee my own self, but it doesn't rate with yours. My wife now, somehow, she just never could get the hang of making good coffee. Lord knows she tried.”
Somehow Mariska had just accepted Dover as a single man, and the idea that he might be married, had never even crossed her mind.
“Now, Mr. Dover, that you have a wife, comes as a surprise.
Where is she? Does she live nearby?”
“Well, I suppose the answer to both those questions is – I don't rightly know. You see ma'm, we married when we both were pretty much still kids. I'm not sure what we were thinking... She wanted a home- for- dinner every night husband, and I wanted to see what was over the next hill, or what lies beyond the next river.. Reckon I was a pretty poor excuse for a spouse. I tried to be a good one when I was home, but truth is, in the three years we were married, it's doubtful that I was home more than a couple of months all put together. The last time I left was the straw that broke the camel's back I suppose. When I finally came back, I found out that she had run off for parts unknown with a slick talking, good looking circuit-riding preacher. Whereever she's at, I hope she's happy. She sure didn't get much of it married to me.
Watching Mariska check over Sean, Dover asked “How is your husband doing Ma'm ?”
Wiping off Sean's face with a cool cloth, she answered, “I think he's doing better this morning. His fever doesn't seem to be as intense. I must admit that for awhile, I was afraid he might die.”
Dover's response brought Mariska up short...”Ma'm, I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but, what would you have done if he had died?”
With total honesty, she answered, “ I truly don't know. I just refused to accept the idea that he might die. I suppose I could go back to my village, but after seeing so much different country and meeting so many different people, I'm not sure I could again be satisfied there.”
“Yes Ma'm, I suppose that would be difficult. However, the reality of things is that there are a dozen ways for a man to die out here without even trying. Best you do some thinking on what you would do if it came to that. Life ain't fair Ma'm.. You have to deal with it, as it comes to you – good or bad. Anyways, I suppose I better start minding my own business, and get busy watering the horses, and do a little hunting so we can have some fresh meat for supper. I want to take a look around and make sure Fowler is sure nuff gone”, Dover said, as he grabbed his rifle and headed for the horses.
That afternoon, Sean's fever broke, and by suppertime, he was able to sit up and talk for a bit. Mariska introduced him to Dover, and explained all that had happened while he had been sick. When Sean tried to thank him for saving their lives, Dover, clearly uncomfortable with their praise, suddenly remembered, he needed to ride out and check their backtrail..
For the next two days, as Sean's strength was coming back, he helped Dover where he could, as they talked at length on a variety of subjects, including Dover's name. “Is Dover your first or last name?” inquired Sean?
“It's just my name. I was given another, but have never found that I needed it, so I'm just Dover.”
Sean laughed, and agreed that it was all he needed.
Two more days later, they arrived at the Mississippi River.
Dover pulled up, and said to Sean, “Fellow named Muley lives just upriver a piece, normally runs a ferry here. Everythings gone, so, I'm guessing he has pulled up stakes. Makes no difference. With this wind, the river is so rough that he wouldn't have been able to run the ferry anyway. However, I've got an ace in the hole. Riverboat from New Orleans is due to come by here today, and the Pilot owes me a favor or three.”
That afternoon, Dover spotted the Riverboat, and made a signal fire. Much to Sean and Mariska's surprise, the boat started coming their way. “Get ready”, warned Dover. “ With this wind, he won't risk stopping the boat. When he gets close, they will throw down a gangplank and reverse the engines. We will have no more than a short minute to get aboard. If the boat starts drifting on him as we are on the gangplank, they will pull it right out from under us with no warning, so we better load like our hair was on fire.”
Sean brought up the rear as they loaded, and as Dover had predicted, Sean's horse was only half on the boat, when they pulled the gangplank in. Two seconds earlier, and Sean and his horse would have been swimming. Dover walked up to the Pilot House, and made arrangements for them to be taken to the western side of the river.
After being unloaded onto the Arkansas side of the Mississipi, the Riverboat went on it's way upriver, with a couple of toots of the horn by the Pilot. Dover looked at his companions, and said “Sean, I know your plans were to go to St. Louis. If you don't mind my sticking my nose in your business, I'll offer you another idea. Forgetting St. Louis and cutting across country might be better. It's true that you can find work in St. Louis to make money to buy provisions for a trip westward. However, there is a hidden danger there. I've been to St. Louis. The town is filled with men and women who stopped to work on their way west, and have never left. The danger of money, is that you can become tied down to it. People start worrying more about what they are giving up by leaving, and less about what they want to find on the other end.
If you stop and add up all the miles you and Mariska have traveled since leaving her village, it's at least as much as what the trip to the Rockies will be – maybe more. You have traveled all that way without earning money – why do you have to do so now? You know how to hunt and fish. Both of you are at home on the trail. I'm not sure you might not be better off bypassing St. Louis. However, I stopped counting the number of times I've been wrong, so you should do what you believe is right.”
Pointing north, Dover suggested, “ Tell you what. We will head toward St. Louis. Two or three days in that direction, we will come across the best trail to cut across from that part of the country. When we reach there, you will have to decide which direction you go – West towards the Rocky Mountains, or north to St.Louis.
“Which way are you going to go Dover?” inquired Mariska.
“Ma'm, I didn't lose anything in St. Louis, so I'm headed west.:
Mariska laughed, and said “ I have asked you numerous times to please call me Mariska – not “Ma'm”.... Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes Ma'm....I surely will” was his reply.
“Ma'm, you and Sean should do whatever you feel is best for you. Heck, most likely, my scalp will end up on the lodgepole of some Indian brave's lodge, so you both might be better off in St. Louis anyway,” he laughed as he mounted and led the way up the trail.